The paid attendance was only 17,402, but the pre-game crowd was huge. Here’s a photo that doesn’t even begin to capture the mass of humanity waiting to enter Tropicana Field:
Why were there so many people on a Tuesday? Because kids are out of school? Because the Rays recently moved into first place, and this was their first home game after the All-Star break? Because everyone else wanted to see Heath Bell too?
While waiting to enter, I saw a familiar face:
In the photo above, the guy on the left is a fellow ballhawk named Michael. We first met in 2008 at Champion Stadium, and we saw each other most recently on 5/22/12 at Marlins Park. He knew I was going to be at the Trop, so he brought a weird baseball to show me. Check it out:
Have you ever seen anything like that?! Michael said he snagged it during batting practice earlier this season, and he made a good point: the double-logo can’t be the result of another ball hitting it because then there’d be a mirror image. Somehow, this fantastic defect must have occurred during the stamping process at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica.
Here’s another shot of the crowd waiting to enter:
As you can see in the photo above, the lines went all the way back past the bag check area and into the parking lot. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the lines were longer here (for a regular-season weeknight game) than at Citi Field for the Home Run Derby. I don’t get it, but hey, good for the Rays.
When the stadium opened, I sprinted to the left field seats, and for about 30 seconds, I had the place to myself:
During that brief window of time, I got J. J. Putz to throw me a ball.
A little while later, this was the view to my left:
In the photo above, do you see the guy crouching in the front row? That’s a friend of mine named Andy — more on him in a bit.
Ten minutes into BP, I got a ball tossed by Brad Ziegler (which I handed to the nearest kid), and soon after that, I got another toss-up from Brandon McCarthy.
At 6:05pm, I was stunned/pissed to see the Diamondbacks jogging off the field. Because the stadium hadn’t opened until 5:40, I’d only gotten twenty-five minutes of BP, but even worse was the fact that I missed my chance to say hello to Heath Bell at the dugout. I still headed over there (because there wasn’t anything else to do) and ended up getting a very scuffed/dirty baseball:
In the photo above, do you see the kid in the gray cap on the right? He’s the one who tossed it to me, and yes, I decided to count it in my collection. I asked him if he was connected to the Diamondbacks in any way, and he told me that his father works for the team. I resisted the urge to ask who his father is, but later on I saw him sitting next to Derrick Hall in the front row behind the dugout. Pretty cool.
A few minutes later, Andy found me behind the dugout. Here I am with him and his almost-two-year-old daughter named Eve:
I spent the next half-hour with Andy, Eve, and Michael . . . and Michael’s father Paul — a great bunch of folks. I feel lucky to have gotten to know so many nice people in various baseball cities.
My plan for the game was simple. For left-handed batters, I stood in a tunnel here:
For righties, I moved here . . .
. . . and when there were two outs in the bottom half of each inning, I hung out here:
I figured that between all the foul balls and 3rd-out balls, I’d have no trouble snagging a gamer and raising an additional $500 for Pitch In For Baseball. (As you might already know, BIGS Sunflower Seeds is going to donate $500 to that charity for every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball.)
Here’s something random for you . . .
Running full-speed into metal armrests isn’t fun.
Early in the game, in between batters, I heard some thunder that was so loud and perfect that I wondered if it was a stadium sound effect. Then I heard it again during an at-bat and realized that there was, indeed, a powerful storm in the area. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, the lights flickered and then dimmed slightly, and I knew right away that the game was going to be delayed. The only question was . . . how long would it last?
Here’s a photo that shows the umpires huddling and the Diamondbacks walking off the field:
Like I said, the lights were slightly dim — probably about 10 percent dimmer than normal, if you want to quantify it — but that was enough to mess everything up. I didn’t mind, and in fact I was glad. It gave me some time to hang out with my friend Linda (whom I know from the world of competitive Scrabble) along the left field foul line. Here we are:
Meanwhile, the lights were all screwy:
After a 20-minute delay, the Diamondbacks took the field, and Heath Bell stopped to sign autographs on the way to the bullpen:
He’s the best.
I said a quick hello as he walked past, and we made a plan to meet near the dugout after the final out.
The game was a disaster. I only came close to one foul ball and eventually got scolded by stadium security for standing in the tunnel on the 1st-base side. So what did I do? I moved to the tunnel on the 3rd-base side, but they found me there and threatened to eject me if I didn’t go to my seat. Meanwhile, the 3rd-out balls simply weren’t happening. There were a zillion kids, and the Diamondbacks were unpredictable, and I was constantly out of position. I was so sure that I wasn’t going to snag a gamer that I pulled up the Rays schedule on my phone and figured out when I’d be able to come back: August 27th and 28th for the Angels.Of course, I didn’t want to come back. I wanted to snag a gamer and be done with this cruddy stadium, but my opportunities were dwindling. By the 8th inning, I knew I only had one more shot. I *had* to get the 3rd-out ball, and I was stressing bigtime. Long story short: after jockeying for position and boldly predicting that the inning would end with a strikeout . . . it happened! Chaz Roe struck out James Loney, and D’backs catcher Wil Nieves tossed me the ball over several rows of fans. Some guy in front of me reached up for it and barely missed it by two inches, enabling me to make the catch. I was SO relieved. You really have no idea, but the following photo might give you an indication:
The Rays ended up winning, 5-2, behind a 102-pitch, complete-game effort by “Fausberto,” as Andy calls him.
I hurried down to the seats beside the dugout and got a fist-bump from Didi Gregorius, who walked past to greet some other fans. As he was posing for a photo with them, Heath and two other relievers headed in from the bullpen:
Heath went inside briefly, but then came back out to chat. Here’s a photo of us (which was taken by Andy):
Our conversation didn’t last long. Mainly, I wanted to let him know that I’ll be at Chase Field on August 12th and 13th, speaking of which . . . I now have three more stadium visits planned. I’ll be at Dodger Stadium on August 9th and 11th (and maybe also on the 10th, which is a Saturday afternoon Hideo Nomo Bobblehead giveaway, so I’m tempted to skip it and relax). Then I’ll be heading to Chase Field, and after that, I’ll be in Oakland for two games on August 14th and 15th. Given my challenge from the folks at BIGS to snag a gamer at each stadium, it’s much better when I can be at a place for more than one day. Many thanks to BIGS for making all of this happen. Visiting these stadiums never gets old, and even though I sometimes complain, I’m constantly grateful.
Before exiting Tropicana Field (with a different bunch of guards nagging me about “the bowl” being closed [which I interpreted as “the toilet bowl”]), I threw on my BIGS shirt and switched caps for one final photo with The Ball:
Goodbye, Florida. I won’t miss you.
• 406 balls in 54 games this season = 7.52 balls per game.
• 29 balls at 4 lifetime games at Tropicana Field = 7.25 balls per game.
• 926 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 451 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 24 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, Camden Yards, U.S. Cellular Field, Comerica Park, Rogers Centre, Miller Park, Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Target Field, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, and Tropicana Field
• 6,865 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 33 donors for my fundraiser
• $3.06 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $15.30 raised at this game
• $1,242.36 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $12,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $34,648.36 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009